Book Notes: Four Futures

Four Futures: Life After Capitalism by Peter Frase
Read Sep 26, 2021 - Oct 7, 2021

Four Futures feels more like a long magazine article than a book. It presents a 2x2 grid of possible futures, with axes of equality/hierarchy and abundance/scarcity, and proceeds to describe what life in each of the quadrants might look like. Here is Frase’s grid:

Abundance Scarcity
Equality communism socialism
Hierarchy rentism exterminism

Frase explicitly declines to predict which one of the possible futures is more or less likely. He also does not spend any time tracing specific paths or strategies that might take us deliberately in one or the other direction. The end result has some interesting bits of analysis, but overall seemed a little superficial and not a particularly engaging read.

Book Highlights

Technological developments give a context for social transformations, but they never determine them directly; change is always mediated by the power struggles between organized masses of people.

The starting point of the entire analysis is that capitalism is going to end, and that, as Luxemburg said, it is either “transition to socialism or regression into barbarism.”

The ideal of a postscarcity society is that various kinds of esteem are independent, so that the esteem in which one is held as a musician is independent of the regard one achieves as a political activist, and one can’t use one kind of status to buy another.

[…] potential of markets as limited technologies separable from capitalism

[…] probably none of them is possible at all in a pure form […] Which means that we should be particularly concerned with the road leading toward these utopias and dystopias, rather than the precise nature of the final destination. Especially because the path that leads to utopia is not necessarily itself utopian.

[…] all four futures are already here, “unevenly distributed,” in William Gibson’s phrase.

But short of a civilizational collapse so complete that it cuts us off from our accumulated knowledge and plunges us into a new dark ages, it’s hard to see a road that leads back to industrial capitalism as we have known it.

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